J. (Joshua) Abelson.

The immanence of God in rabbinical literature online

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It gives a rationalistic explanation of the mystical idea
about the " Throne brooding " over the chaos of the
first Creation.]

(2) From the wide sense of wind as it blows over
the universe, it is narrowed down to denote the wind
of man's body, i.e. the breath ; and as breath is the
fundamental vital principle, we get the combination
n^Tr nil, "the spirit or breath of life" (Genesis vii. 15,
22) ; m''N 12)1 Sd nn, " the spirit of the whole flesh of
man " (Job xii. 10). All these senses are purely physical.
Particularly noteworthy in this connexion is the
expression in Psalm Ixxviii. 39, " For He remembered
that they were but flesh ; a wind \i.e. a breath] that
passeth away, and cometh not again." Life is a breath.
When the breath gives out, so does the life.

(3) The idea of the life-principle in man leads on
to the psychological manifestations of that principle.
Hence mi, " Spirit," comes to denote some of the higher
aspects of human nature. These are (a) the emotional,
as e.g. Genesis xli. 8, " And it came to pass in the
morning, that his spirit was troubled"; Exodus vi. 9,
" But they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of
spirit, and for cruel bondage"; Proverbs xxv. 28, "As
a city that is broken down and without walls, so is
he that hath no rule over his spirit." A beautiful
simile for the utter desolation which awaits a career
of unrestrained passion or emotion ! Hosea v. 4, 'For
the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and
they have not known the Lord." Here the sensual
emotion is depicted as the bar to the knowledge of


God. (h) The volitional, as e.g. Deut. ii. 30, " For the
Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart
obstinate." The hardening of the "spirit" is the
deadening of the volitional capacity. Numbers xiv. 24,
" But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit
with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring
into the land." Here spirit = intention, will. Similarly
2 Chronicles xxxvi. 22 (identical phrase also in Ezra
i. 1), "The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king
of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all
his kingdom." The " stirring of the spirit" is the
rousing of the beneficent motive in man. Again, in
Psalm li. 19, " The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,"
we have an allusion to the necessity of the resignation
of man's will to the Divine will. And the behaviour
of the man whose will leads him into unprofitable paths,
is termed in Ecclesiastes i. 14 mi r\M}i, i.e. "vexation of
spirit" (this translation assumes "n^si to be connected
with the root 2?"i = evil ^^^ : another rendering of the
phrase is "feeding on wind" ; in this case mi has the
purely physical sense that I have spoken of, and as
is alluded to in Hosea xii. 2, " Ephraim feedeth on
wind ").(^)

Following on this psychological usage of " spirit "
as a phase of the emotional and volitional aspect of
mind, we get a compound usage where the word is
tacked on to another noun which exactly particu-
larises the nature of the " spirit." For example, " the
spirit of wisdom" (Exodus xxviii. 3). This means that
department of the emotional or volitional aspect of
mind which shows itself in wisdom. " The spirit of
■udsdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and
might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the
Lord" (Isaiah xi. 2). According to Marti, the high
stage of religious and moral equipment here alluded



to, as characterising the ideal king, will be consequent
upon his being filled with that highest spiritual
element denoted in the immediately preceding words,
" And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him."
A similarly high grade of character, brought to pass as
the result of a Divine gift, is denoted by the expression
" spirit of grace and supplications" in Zechariah xii. 10.
And then we get the application of this compound
usage of " spirit" to the exactly opposite side of human
disposition, viz. the undesirable intentions and emotions.
Thus in Numbers v. 14 we read of the " spirit of
jealousy." In 1 Samuel xvi. 23, xvii. 10 we read of
the " evil spirit." In 2 Chronicles xviii. 22 the " spirit
of lying" is spoken of. Isaiah xxix. 10, in a character-
istic metaphor, alludes to the pouring out on the people,
of the " spirit of deep sleep," upon which Marti makes
the comment that here " m~i als etwas Materielles
gilt." Zechariah xiii. 2 speaks of the cutting off
of the prophets and the " spirit of un cleanness," the
latter no doubt alluding to the base impulses which
prompted the exercise of the prophetic art at the
time when the author wrote. ^^^

(4) The next upward step in the connotation of
" Spirit " in the O.T. is its recognition as a Divine
principle in human nature. The preceding senses have
been psychological. They correspond to character,
motive, impulse, will, intention, in so far as these
sway and determine the conduct of men and their re-
lations to one another. We now come to the theo-
logical aspect of the word, its bearing on the highest
and holiest of the relationships which encompass man,
viz. his relationship to the Deity. An appropriate
start might be made with the expression in Numbers
xxvii. 16, " The Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh."
As it stands, in its bald literalness, this phrase is hardly


intelligible. But the right meaning is suggested by
the Pseudo-Jonathan Targum which rendered it thus :
"The 'Memra' of God who rules over the soul of
man, and from whom is given the soul-spirit to all
flesh." Here we have a clear hint as to the linking
up of the Divine with the human spirit. The human
spirit belongs to God and is " given " by Him. Being
a gift it has to be, at some time or another, restored
to its oriofinal owner. ^^^ And thus the Psalmist is moved


to exclaim, " Into Thine hand I commit my spirit," ^'^^
while the author of Ecclesiastes xii. 7 speaks of the
spirit returning " unto the God that gave it." It is
doubtful whether the wTiter meant to convey some
clearly-conceived idea of a personal immortality or of
some spiritual resurrection.

(5) This leads to the final inquiry as to the nature
and constituent elements of spirit in such recurring
expressions as " Spirit of God." It is important, in
discussing this subject, to adopt the method of classi-
fication. One has to classify the O.T. references to
the Divine Spirit in respect of its relations to (a) the
nation ; (6) the individual ; (c) the world.^'*^ In re-
spect of (a) it would be necessary to make sub-
divisions so as to differentiate between the w^orkings
of the spirit in the various representative sections of
the nation, as e.g. kings, prophets, Messiah, etc. And
in the case of {b) investigation w^ould have to dis-
tinguish those references where the Spirit is, as it
were, fitful, occasional, ecstatic, from those where it is
permanent, an internal ethical endowment continuous
in its efiect.

I shall adopt this classification, but as this whole
subject of the spirit in the O.T. is only here introduced
in an introductory sense, i.e. as opening the way to a
better understanding and interpretation of the " Holy


Spirit " as an aspect of the Immanence of God in the
Rabbinical writings, I shall only be able to deal with
representative aspects of the theme, and cannot attempt
to quote all the passages that are to be found.

Take first {a) The Relation of Divine Spirit to the
Nation : —

(1) As inspiring acts of heroism in the Judges,
e.g. " And the Spirit of the Lord began to move him
[Samson] at times in the camp of Dan, between Zorah
and Eshtaol" (Judges xiii. 25). The Targum on the
passage is wonderfully explanatory Niiii rm nNTtni
"n DTp ]D HTiiDprif?, i.e. " and the spirit of might from
before God commenced to strengthen (i.e. fortify) him."^^^
It has a similar rendering of xiv. 6, xv. 14; cp.
Judges xi. 29.

(2) As inspiring acts of heroism in the King,
e.g. 1 Samuel xi. 6, where Saul helps the men of
Jabesh Gilead against Nahash the Ammonite. As an
instance of the careful discrimination by the Targum,
of the various senses of Spirit, I may mention that
whereas here, as in the instance previously quoted, it
renders it *' Spirit of might," there are several other
passages in 1 Samuel where the very same Hebrew phrase
is rendered hniid m"i, i.e. "spirit of prophecy." This is the
case in x. 6, xvi. 13,^^^ xix. 20, 23, the prophetic aspect of
the Spirit being more in accordance with the context.

(3) As inspiring various characters connected with
the cult or government of ancient Israel. For example.
Exodus xxxi. 3, where it is said of Bezaleel, " And I
have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and
in understanding ... to devise cunning works, etc." ^^°^
The correct ordering of the Tabernacle, which was to be,
for Israel, the instrument for encompassing the Shechinah
in the midst of the nation, was brought about through


this endowment of Bezaleel with the " Spirit."
Numbers xi. 17, " And I will take of the spirit which is
upon thee, and put it upon them " (the seventy elders).
The "spirit" here would probably mean the Divine
inspiration of the capacity for government, although,
according to the Pseudo-Jonathan Targum, it refers to
the Spirit of prophecy.^"^

(4) As an endowment to the nation directly from
God, sometimes in a prophetic, and sometimes in a more
general, sense, sometimes as a promise for the future, and
sometimes as a possession of a past age. Thus, Isaiah
xliv, 3, " I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my
blessing upon thine offspring." Judging from the
preceding half of the verse, and from the parallelism,
the Spirit here would have affinity with the " blessing
of Grod," and would probably allude to a combined moral
and physical regeneration. According to Marti, it is a
physical quickening of the nation and not a spiritual
quickening. " Die moralische Regeneration ist nicht
erwahnt," says he [Das Buch Jesaja, p. 300) ; and he
goes on to compare it with Ezekiel xxxvii. 1-14, which,
in his view, is only a promise of material regeneration.
But such a standpoint is hardly tenable. To interpret
thus, any of the prophecies of Ezekiel which refer to
the golden future of exiled Israel, argues insensibility
to the underlying spirit of Ezekiel's message. Dillmann
is far more to the point. He says {Der Prophet Jesaja,
Leipzig, 1890, on page 400) : " The Spirit and the bless-
ing of God, these are typified by the water which God
pours out upon the physically, politically, and spiritually
dead nature. The acquiring of the Spirit {Begeistung)
is for Israel a preparatory condition of the fulfilment of
his mission." ^^'^ The Targum goes to the opposite
extreme of Marti's view, and renders " my Holy Spirit,"
a purely spiritual endowment.


I now take (b) The Relations of the Divine Spirit
to Man. I subdivide as follows : —

(1) It can be an occasional, fitful inspiration.
These instances are all more or less prophetic or
ecstatic. They abound largely in Ezekiel. Thus in
ii. 2, " And the Spirit entered into me when he spake
unto me, and set me upon my feet." The allusion is
to one of the ecstatic states into which the prophet
lapses at the time of the receipt of the message.
In Ezekiel iii. 12, 14, "Then the Spirit took me up,
etc.," there is a curious and weird combination of
the spiritual and material aspect of the Spirit. The
Divine inspiration which seizes the prophet, acts like a
wind to lift him off his feet and remove him from one
place to another. In viii. 3 an even more impressive
picture on the same theme is drawn. And so xi. 1,
24 and other passages. The Rabbis took an extra-
ordinarily serious view of the mystic experiences of
Ezekiel. They treated them as Divine secrets, from
which the masses must be held back at all costs.
Whether they held that the prophet experienced these
strange happenings in actual waking life, or whether
they believed them to be his own written description of
ecstatic visions that came to him, it is not easy to say.
Suffice it to say, that mediaeval Rabbinic commentators
are unanimous in the latter view.^'^^ To them, it is
a highly coloured description of the inner and outer
workings upon man, of the prophetic aspect of God's
Spirit. And modern scholars who see in Ezekiel
the " father of Apocalypse," and a wealth of symbolism
which makes his book rank as one of the most original
in the sacred literature of Israel, are but corroborating
and developing these views along the old lines.

The only other books of the O.T. where we get
sudden and ecstatic seizures of the Spirit upon in-


dividuals, are Numbers and 1 and 2 Chronicles. Thus
in 1 Chronicles xii. 18 the Spirit comes upon Amasai,
" who was chief of the thirty, and he said, Thine are
we, David, and on thy side, thou son of Jesse." The
identity of Amasai is doubtful : he is probably either
Amasa or Abishai. But whoever he may have been,
it is clear that we have here an instance of a sudden
unexpected inrush of the Divine inspiration upon the
leader of a troop of warriors. This is the " heroic "
aspect of the Spirit previously alluded to. In 2
Chronicles xv. 1-7, closely following upon an account
of the wars of Asa, King of Judah, with the Ethio-
pians, there is a sudden break in the narrative ; and we
are told that " the Spirit of God came upon Azariah
the son of Oded," and he delivers before Asa and the
men of Judah a vivid harangue, in which he depicts
the results of Israel's apostasy in previous ages, and
exhorts them to be henceforth strong and earnest in
the service of God. Now, who Azariah the son of Oded
was cannot be ascertained. Whether his exhortation
can correctly be described as prophecy is open to
question on two grounds. Firstly, there is nothing
about it, which would place it on a higher pedestal
than the address which might be given by any preacher,
who wished to present a statesmanlike view of
matters to his audience. Secondly, much obscurity
clusters round the phrase in verse 8, which reads
N^i^n "nil' HNnDn^ which as it stands is an impossible
Hebrew construction. And yet we are told that his
speech is prompted by the Divine Spirit. We can
only infer that this is another instance of the " ecstatic "
usage of Spirit. Some momentarily overpowering
Divine impulse takes possession of the man at the
hour when, in his thinking, there is some high crisis
in Israel's affairs.


In the Book of Numbers, the typical example of
this fitful, unexplained, and unanticipated appearance
in man of the Spirit of God, is Balaam (xxiv. 2). It is
under its influence that his intention to curse melts
into the ecstatic desire to bless. Can Balaam be
designated a prophet ? Not from his recorded words
or actions in the Bible, unless we regard as prophecy
the few passages in which allusions are made, in difiicult
and ambiguous Hebrew, to far-off future events in the
history of Israel/^*^ But, strangely enough, the Eabbins
thought him a prophet. The Targum reflects their
view, by unreservedly rendering the phrase in xxiv. 2 as,
" And there rested upon him the Spirit of prophecy from
God." What Moses was to Israel (in the prophetic
capacity) that was Balaam to the heathens, says the
Talmud. In a passage in Numbers Eabba xx. 19 the
profession practised by Balaam is thus interestingly
graduated. He was first a mere interpreter of dreams.
He then proceeded to the higher degree of diviner.
From this, he graduated to become a possessor of the
Holy Spirit. But he afterwards fell back again to the
status of a diviner, as is proved by Joshua xiii. 22,
" Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, did the
children of Israel slay with the sword."

(2) Our second subdivision deals wdth the relations
of Divine Spirit to man, where the spirit is a permanent,
inborn endowment with a continuous ethical significance.
In the Book of Psalms, there is one good instance in
cxliii. 10, " Teach me to do Thy will ; for Thou art my
God : Thy spirit is good ; lead me into the land
of uprightness." This is the A.V. rendering. The
Rabbinic commentators invariably translate it, " Thy
good spirit shall lead me, etc.," in spite of the difficulty
involved in the omission of the definite article in the
word. The Targum adopts this view too, and renders


it as "Thy Holy Spirit shall lead me, etc."(^'> The
Spirit here is the inward possession of God's grace.
Thus equipped, the Psalmist feels himself fitted to
enter " the land of uprightness," i.e. to take his place
among the best, God's elect. There are numerous
examples in the Book of Isaiah. A striking instance
is xi. 2, where of the Messianic ruler it is said, " And
the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit
of wisdom . . . and of the fear of the Lord." This
conception of the Spirit is extremely comprehensive.
" It assumes varied forms to meet the varied duties
and relations of life to be sustained by the Messianic
ruler," ^^''^ It is important, by the way, to notice the
generalising of the connotation of prophecy, the widen-
ing of the area covered by the word. It is wrong to
restrict the term to the capacity of foretelling the
future, or to this capacity combined with the gift or
endowment of a special kind of inspiration not vouch-
safed to ordinary men. As we have seen from more
than one preceding quotation from the O.T. — and
particularly when viewed in the light of the Targumic
translation — prophecy consists in the possession of a
higher insight into the wdll of God, the infusion into
man of a more than ordinary power and knowledge
and discernment, enabling him to perform what is
right, good, and true more effectually than he who
lacks the gift. This is the basis of the frequent identi-
fication of " Spirit of God " with prophecy. And
this is why the Targum here, as in other places, makes
the identification. Thus its rendering of xii. 2 is, " And
there shall come forth a King from the sons of Jesse,
and a Messiah shall spring up from among his sons'
sons. And there shall rest upon him the spirit of
prophecy from God." The Targum reflects the Eabbins
of the Talmud and Midrash. Whether the Rabbins,


however, associated Proplietism with the Messiah, is a
moot point which I shall touch on later. But if
they did, then it was this spiritual-regenerative sense
of the term that they were thinking of In Isaiah
xlii. 1, which is the first of the "Servant " passages,
the infusion of the Spirit of God into him is the first
condition of his Messianic-prophetic mission. This view
assumes that the verses 1-4 are Messianic, as does the
Targum, which renders verse 1, "Behold my servant
the Messiah, I will draw him near me ... I will
place my Holy Spirit upon him. ..." And the evident
and widespread results of the spirit-imbued servant are
that "he shall bring forth judgment ('Mishpat') to
the nation." By this phrase "Mishpat" is meant, as
Marti points out, the popularisation of religion through-
out the world.^^^^ Thus, the permanent abiding of the
Spirit in an individual, brings about its permanent
continuance in all men ; and this involves a religious
and ethical regeneration. But what is the exact
significance of Spirit in Isaiah lix. 21, "My Spirit that
is upon thee . . . shall not depart out of thy mouth
. . ." ? It does not seem to bear the same meaning as
in thi' " Servant " passage we have just been examining,
where the word has so many prophetic associations.
The attempt made by some of the Jewish commen-
tators to range the words "my Spirit" and "my
words," as alluding respectively to the Prophets
and the Law, is ingenious but far-fetched. The most
likely interpretation is that of Duhm, who takes a
strictly ethical view of the Spirit here. It is the
abiding Spirit " des Gehorsams und der Demut." The
Israelitish trait in which, according to the second Isaiah,
God finds His chiefest delight is humility, as manifested
in obedience to His word.

Leaving Isaiah and coming to the Minor Prophets,


we meet with an outstanding instance of the far-reaching
inward and outward ethical efficacy of the Spirit, in
Zechariah iv. 6, " This is the word of the Lord unto
Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but
by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." The prophetic
or Messianic interpretations of spirit do not fit the
context here. The allusion is, plainly, to the mystical
Divine energy flowing into man, and empowering him
to act greatly and overcome superhuman obstacles
triumphantly. Unto whom will the spirit here spoken
of be vouchsafed ? According to Rashi it will be to
the Darius who is alluded to in Ezra vi, 9 as having
given the decree for the building of the Temple and
for supplying the Jews with " wheat, salt, wine and
oil," and other things for the purposes of the restored
sacrificial ordinances. But the more tenable view, and
the one adopted by most commentators ancient and
modern, because it is the one which most readily springs
from the context, is that Zerubbabel is the person here
referred to. The work which Zerubbabel has in hand
he will accomplish, not by human might or power,
but by the Spirit of God aiding and cheering and
invigorating him. There is a distinct air of mysticism
about the whole of the passage from Zechariah.
The vision of the candlestick is strongly reminiscent
of the Biblical as well as Rabbinical portrayal of
the light of God, the " Shechinah," the " Kabod,"
which is all -pervading and universal. The number
" seven," the most mystical of all the numerals, is
employed with suggestive frequency. The " seven
eyes" upon one stone (iii. 9) are the seven eyes of God,
which "run to and fro through the whole earth"; in
other words, they are God's immanence. Upon the
** stone " (iii. 9), which may either be the first or
foundation-stone of the Temple, or that alluded to in


iv. 7, which was the final coping-stone of the entire
fabric, God will "engrave the graving" (iii. 9). This,
taken out of its symbolic trappings, would seem to be
a reference to the concentration, the focussing of the
Divine Providence within the precincts of the Sanctuary,
an idea met with in different ways in both Bible and
Talmud/^^^ In iv. 2 the candlestick has seven lamps,
and " there are seven pipes to each of the seven lamps " ;
presumably it was through these that the oil flowed
from " the bowl upon the top of it " into the lamps
for lighting. One is readily tempted to look upon the
symbolism of the "bowl upon the top of it" as the
supreme and initial fountain of Divinity which pours
its beneficence through " the seven pipes," i.e. through
the variegated channels of men and creation generally,
and becomes embedded in the universe. When, in iv. 6,
the riddle is unravelled, and the symbolism is explained
to be the Divine promise to Zerubbabel, that whatever
he will henceforth accomplish will be the result of the
intervention and instrumentality of the " Spirit," we
see how readily the contents of the whole of chap. iv.
hang together and form one complete picture. The
Divine Spirit radiates through the world, and in-
fluences the heart of man. In one instance, it incites
Zerubbabel to undertakings of the highest ethical and
religious importance.

I now turn to (c) TJie Relation of the Divine
Spirit to the World. In Genesis i. 2, vi. 17, vii. 15 and
many other places in the O.T. the spirit has the
physical meaning of wind, breath. In Ecclesiastes it
is figuratively carried over to denote vanity. With
all these material senses we are not concerned. It
is with the ethical usage of the term that we have
to do.


The opening chapters of Genesis deal explicitly with
the creation and formation of animal and human life,
and the phrases " spirit of life " or " breath of life "
which we encounter there repeatedly, denote, in their
rather naive ways, the origin of vitality in all sentient
beings. In Genesis ii. 7 and ii. 9 the very same word
ns^l (" and he formed ") is employed of both the
creation of man and the animals. Man in the former
passage becomes a " living soul," and in the latter
passage, the very same epithet is applied to every
beast of the field and every fowl of the air that was
brought to Adam. The allusions are, most probably, to
that sense of spirit which denotes the foundation of all
created life : the physical basis of vitality, which ranges

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